Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eco-Capital in the U.S. Capitol

Let’s face it – travel is not really the most environmentally friendly hobby you can choose. And where I live, in the Washington, D.C., metro area, we’re not particularly known for our eco-friendly ways. But say you’re one of the 15 million tourists visiting the nation’s capital, and you want to limit your impact on the environment. What are your options?

You can start by choosing an eco-friendly place to stay. According to Frommer travel guides, “Washington, D.C., was the first major city to require developers to adhere to guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council.” Many hotels go the extra step of using eco-friendly practices or even "adopting" parks that they then maintain. The Willard Intercontinental, for instance, relies only on renewable energy.

The Kimpton chain of hotels has 140 hotels in the country’s most visited tourist spots, with 11 of them in the D.C. area. They take their impact on the environmental very seriously. They use only organic and/or recycled products – from their cleaning supplies, to the ink in their printers, to the stationary and soaps they stock in your room. They donate old towels, linens, plastic bottles, TVs, mugs – even partially used shampoos and conditioners – to local charities. They recycle everything, and whenever possible, use only recycled products. They don’t even keep telephone directories or maps in their rooms; you have to access those online.

Likewise, with their restaurants. Their menus feature local, organic, and sustainable foods, and the company’s a stickler, right down to not offering condiment packets. I’d love to go and on about this awesome company, but if you’re interested, you can read more about them here.

(Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)
The nation’s capital also boasts the much-lauded Restaurant Nora, the country’s first certified organic restaurant, which according to its web site, is one of only four U.S. restaurants with that certification. The famed restaurant takes its name from its Austrian owner, Nora Pouillon, whose menus feature a list of produce currently in season at the top and a list of farmers and growers from which she gets her ingredients on page two. (Notice I didn’t say distributors; Nora uses only locally grown and farmed ingredients.) If you like her food or can’t make it to D.C. in the near future, check out her book, Cooking with Nora, a Julia Child Cookbook Award finalist.

D.C. boasts a variety of other eclectic and award-winning eco-eateries: seafood restaurant, Hook, was named by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the country’s top 10 eco-friendly restaurants. Equinox, where Michelle Obama celebrated her birthday, uses ingredients grown within 100 miles of the restaurant.

Java Green and Café Green, Sticky Fingers Bakery, Science Club, and Blue Duck Tavern are other eco-friendly places to eat. Check out their links too they tell some interesting stories. (For example, Java Green uses wind power; one of Sticky Fingers’ female founders left to front a rock band known as the Iron Maidens; the Science Club got its name because it looks like a laboratory; and Blue Duck features all hand-crafted furniture plus a wood-burning oven.) 

So now you’re staying in an eco-friendly place and eating eco-friendly food. How do you get around? Washington, D.C., is infinitely walkable with great public transit (that in itself is trying to become more eco-friendly, with many Metro buses now running on compressed natural gas instead of diesel). If you’re over 16, you can take in the city’s great national treasures using segways, which are pretty ubiquitous these days. If you need to trek farther out, an enviroCAB hybrid taxi can get you there. Or consider renting a bike to get around -- we have an abundance of trails and bike paths.

Great Falls, along the Potomac River, is a state park of both
Virginia and Maryland, about 15 miles from D.C.
In addition to some of the country's finest cultural and historical offerings, you might be surprised by all the lovely greenery that D.C. has to offer. The same city planner who designed Versailles, Pierre L'Enfant, designed this city full of parks, roundabouts, and gardens, preserving and highlighting all of its best natural elements. Of course, this was well before cars came along, so his careful design from during the horse-and-buggy days, along with the population explosion since then, has had a not-so-friendly byproduct lots of traffic congestion.

Still, it's one of the most livable metropolises in the world. At least, we think so.


  1. Thank you, Supriya, for all the information. I'm eager to try one of the restaurants you mentioned. By the way, this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival provided new eco-friendly options, such as free filtered water for your reusable plastic (BPH-free, of course : ) or aluminum water bottle. There was always a line for the fresh water. Instead of styrofoam containers, food vendors used what appeared to be recycled paper. At least it seemed biodegradable. There were ample containers for recycling too. This effort is part of the National Mall sustainability program.

  2. Oh, Supriya, you're making me homesick. I've stayed at the Willard and eaten at Nora, but you mention some places that are new to me. I'll have some exploring to do on my next visit.

    A good post.

  3. Great info! I will be sure to pass it on to family traveling to DC. The most Eco-friendly place I have stayed was the Stanford Inn, Mendocino, CA. All organic vegetarian, organic gardens from which some of their food comes, etc. We loved it.

  4. I've never been to D.C., but this makes me want to go someday. Great Falls state park looks awesome. And the restaurants and hotels making such a great effort to keep things natural and clean is wonderful to hear about. It's amazing what people can do when they put their minds to it.

  5. Thanks, everyone! Rebecca, I'll have to check that place out next time I'm in Cali. And Lisa, what a great idea, to provide water w/o the opportunity to litter. I'm so glad to hear that was a popular line (even if it was long)!